The USDA and Puppy Mills

Thanks so much to Mary O’Connor Shaver at Columbus Top Dogs and Kelli Ohrtman at the Best Friends Animal Society for this article.


Many have heard of the USDA (it’s stamped on organic food labels, meat labels, and other everyday grocery store items), and many have heard of puppy mills. But the fact that puppy mills are regulated by the USDA is a little-known fact to most people.

The US Department of Agriculture seems like a strange entity to be in charge of regulating the puppy industry, but that’s how it works. To be clearer, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) is the arm of the USDA in charge of regulating puppy mills under the Animal Welfare Act. There are currently 5,913 dog breeders and brokers with USDA licenses. People often wonder whether there is a list of all the puppy mills in the country. Well, the USDA is the first place to look.

In April, Oprah Winfrey aired an hour-long show about puppy mills, and the same day, the USDA published a FAQ on animal dealers. Note the paragraph below on the left—the first frequently asked question: “who regulates puppy mills?” Answer: the USDA.
**Note that the USDA has since changed the language to read Who regulates commercial dog breeders?

For a list of USDA licensed commercial dog breeders (or puppy mills—call them what you like), click here.

What many people also don’t realize is that under the Freedom of Information Act, we are all entitled to view not just a breeder’s name and address, but their inspection reports are included as well. Curious about a breeder? Order their inspection reports. You can do it online by clicking here.

What’s NOT inspected by the USDA?
-Retail pet stores. The USDA only regulates the supply end—the breeders.
-Puppy sales on the Internet, classified ads, flea markets. NO regulation
-Small-scale breeders who have three or fewer breeding female dogs. NO regulation

70 inspectors for 10,000 facilities
In addition to inspecting and watching over commercial dog kennels, APHIS inspectors are also in charge of inspecting research facilities, zoos and circuses, airport terminals—they are in charge of inspecting the care, handling and housing of everything from dogs to dolphins. This document, published on APHIS’ website, has this to say about the inspectors themselves:

“[Animal Care] inspectors receive special training in the proper care of marine mammals, exotic animals, and animals used in research. Inspectors also receive extensive training in how to conduct inspections at airport terminals, zoos, and commercial animal breeding facilities, among others. APHIS currently has more than 70 AC inspectors in the United States, who are strategically placed where regulated facilities are located.”

The total number of active licensed facilities listed on the APHIS website is 9,883. At first glance, seventy inspectors for nearly 10,000 facilities sounds like a miniscule number of people doing a colossal job but if you do the math, it adds up to about one facility per day per inspector.

What compliance means with the AWA
It’s important to note exactly what inspectors are looking for when they arrive at a USDA licensed kennel. Their job is to make sure breeders are adhering to the minimum standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). They can look at a facility with hundreds of dogs in small cages, desperate for human attention, and note no violations.

That’s because the AWA does nothing to ensure dogs are happy, or live a quality life. It’s not written into the regulations, and therefore is not something the USDA enforces. Here are some quick facts about the minimum standards set forth by the USDA:

-Inspections are “Risk-based,” meaning that facilities that meet a certain criteria are inspected “as seldom as once every 2 to 3 years.” (source)
-Cage size: must be 6 inches larger than the size of the dog, on all sides
-Up to 12 dogs can be housed in one cage
-Dogs never have to be let out of their cages. Breeders only need to have an exercise plan
-There is no limit to the number dogs a breeder can have—many have over 1,000
-There is no age limit for breeding dogs. If a dog is able to produce puppies for ten years, that’s how long they could be in the facility
For the full text of the federal Animal Welfare Regulations, click here.

Bad Kennels Stay in Business
One of the most common complaints about the USDA from animal advocates is that breeders can have repeated and long-standing violations, but continue to sell hundreds of puppies to pet stores. Below are several reports of large, USDA-licensed Minnesota kennels that have multiple USDA violations and dozens of reports of sick puppies sold in stores. Click the links below to see the reports, courtesy of Pet Shop Puppies Inc.

Note that some have even been investigated by local news stations and have been charged with animal cruelty by the state. (**Note, the top of the report includes puppies the breeder has sold, and the bottom includes USDA inspection violations, news exposés and other investigations, if any.)

Wanda McDuffee

Angie & Gerry Wensmann

Kathy Bauck

What all this means, and what you can do:

1.) Support new legislation that will amend the Animal Welfare Act. The Puppy Uniform Protection Act (PUPS) is on the docket for the 2008-2009 session. Click here for more information (**For one example of a notorious kennel that currently does not need a USDA license under the AWA, visit this case on the CAPS website.)

2.) Watch and share the Best Friends Podcast about the USDA and puppy mills: Click here to view. You can also subscribe to the podcast for regular video updates.

3.) USDA-licensed kennels supply pet stores. If you disagree with the way the USDA regulates these kennels, never, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. Share this article and the podcast with others who might not know about the pet store/puppy mill connection.

4.) Test your knowledge of the USDA’s regulation of puppy mills with this online quiz from

5.) If you know people who don’t understand or believe where pet store puppies come from, print this article and have them take it to a pet store and ask whether the puppies in the store come from USDA-licensed kennels. (The answer—legally—is yes.)

6.) For nine things you can do to help stop puppy mills, visit the Resources section of the Best Friends campaign website.

15 Responses to “The USDA and Puppy Mills”

  1. Lynn says:

    It is so sad how far behind this country is in enacting laws and regulations to protect animals. It totally baffles me that only 70 people are in charge of ten thousand facilities. What the hell? That is totally unacceptable. Its ridiculous. Its like the USDA just doesnt care that cruelty and abuse is happening right under their nose. The USDA should be ashamed of itself.

    • Brian Lefebvre says:

      I completely agree with you, the USDA should be ashame of themselves for not implementing larger fine and or imprisonment to those who abuse these dogs. As noted above “what the hell is wrong with this department”. Do you own a dog, would put your dog in this type of an environment ? Do some thing and do it NOW !

  2. ME says:

    This is disturbing. The USDA has a SERIOUS problem if they only deploy SEVENTY people to check TEN THOUSAND facilities. That is a crock. I plan to write a strongly worded letter to these people and contact my government officials about the bills to stop puppy mills. Thank you for sharing this information. ALOT more needs to be done to monitor these “breeders” who are really animal abusers.

  3. Hmmm. Hadn’t thought about this before. Yes, the Dept of Ag is over the animal shelters and kennels, so puppy mills would come under their umbrella. Very interesting information.

  4. AnimalLuvr says:

    70 inspectors for 10,00 facilities? IS that a bad joke? How many of those inspectors actually CARE about these animals or take their job seriously is what I wanna know. How many of them actually closely inspect? And when in the hell will stricter rules about the animals’ welfare be written into the AWA?

  5. amy says:

    To learn more about how to help stop puppy mills please go to The commericial selling of dogs will NEVER end, people are too greedy. BUT we can make a difference when it comes to Puppy Mills and we need more support to do that.

    Thanks for writting about this.

  6. Jeffrey New says:

    It is so unfair to imprison animals.I don’t care what you have for pets,they all need to be able to roam about the yard or house.Except for little pets, hamsters, ginay pigs,ect…and even they need time out of there prison.I only use my cage for babie kittens at night,and if I get a lazy cat that decieds to pee or poop where they feel like than they get the cage for a short week or till they learn to use the litter box.and I would never give 1 red cent to a puppy mill or cattery even though I feel bad for the dogs and cats,puppies and kittens.The only way I pay for a pet is as a donation to the humane society to get my pet spayed or neutered at a later date.I have 41 mixed breed kitties and they are as loveable or more loveable than a pure bread.I do not feel people should have pets if they do not spay or neuter.Also I think pet owners should be fined a set amount per day after there pet reaches minimum spay and neuter age.If eny body would like to help me with my rescue,spay and neuter mission please go to “” we have every thing for those who love there pets.

  7. B3agleBoy says:

    Its not USDA’s fault they only have 70 inspectors for 10,000 facilities. Its our fault as tax payers & voters. USDA has a budget determined by Congress. If you think USDA isn’t doing a good enough job, write your Congressional delegation and ask them for more money for USDA (and tell them you’d be willing to pay more taxes for it).

    Not having met any USDA inspectors, so I wouldn’t know for sure, but I bet they do care about the animals they see and probably feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do. I would also guess they feel frustrated in what little they can do because of the current laws. Rather than questioning their passion for their job, we could write our Congress people and ask for change (and again be willing to pay for that change).

  8. Amy says:

    I have heard atrocious stories about these supposed “inspectors.” They get paid off, the turn their cheeks to violations, and they dont even really care. They just care about the money. This is sad and unforunate for the millions of dogs in mills who will die there.

    And to BeagleBoy: I DO question their passion for their job. There have been multiple stories on the news and in papers about USDA inspectors not properly docking facilities for violations, it’s a well0known fact that animal advocates have been trying to change for years. And people DO write to Congressman, but they dont care either. They have more important things to worry about.

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  10. Melissa says:

    I am a dog groomer in the state of Missouri, the puppy mill capital of the United States. The puppies we get in are half retarded! That is a serious statement. We had one lady bring her $1500 yorkie in for training and after 2 sessions with the dog the trainer told her she would be better off spending her money on a vet because their was serious damage to the dog’s brain. It makes me mad that the “breeders” or should I say manufactorers of these puppies produce them like they would an apple farm. The more apples, the more money, the better for farmers. The more dogs, the more money, the better for farmers. But they are living creatures!Different story. The problem is the farmers don’t know it is wrong because they are being backed by the USDA. They are not educated on dogs and do not see this as wrong. They see this as part of their livestock. I think we need to set up educational groups just for the farmers.

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  12. Cynthia says:

    I think puppy mills should be shut down, and their owners be brought up on federal charges. Dogs raised in “mills” tend to carry illnesses that can down the road cost the new owner a lot of money. Thanks for this great post, I’m an animal lover and appreciate articles like this.

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